Political economy of agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria

Background

The historical and contemporary importance and contributions of agriculture to industrialisation and human development cannot be over-emphasised. Although pre-colonial agriculture in Africa consisted of peasant agriculture, for better accumulation, colonialism brought about a market and export oriented agriculture to Africa. Agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria had roots in the colonial political economy, and is defined by mechanisation, large-scale agriculture and market production.

Agriculture fortunes in Nigeria’s political economy have varied over the years. The post-colonial state in Nigeria was founded, nurtured and sustained on peasant agricultural accumulation like its colonial predecessor. Though it also embraced agricultural commercialisation for rapid industrialisation and development, this was short-lived following the discovery of crude oil commercial quantities in 1958.  The oil political economy not only engendered a rentier state but, like other resource abundant economies, it produced the Dutch-disease with the destructive effects on other sectors of Nigeria’s economy.

Description of paper

The paper, on which this blog is based, examines the trajectory of agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria since 1999 till 2019.  The study deployed an eclectic theoretical framework anchored on the post-colonial state theory, the narrative-actor politics framework, in addition to political contexts and an incentives approach (that is political advantage and accruable benefits as basis for policy choices). These theoretical undercurrents are situated within the over-arching discourse of globalisation to provide an international dimension for the analysis.

Since independence, the Nigerian post-colonial state has played a central role in accumulation, while remaining economically dependent yet responding to the dictates of transnational capital; that is a capital with ownership in several nations. This has become more important now that the state has become entrenched in the globalisation accumulation process. 

The framework of analysis allows for a critical discussion of the Nigerian state as a basis of unravelling the discourse, power dynamics, social forces, accumulation propensity, incentives and interests that informs and conditions the policy choices of agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria. How the nexus between the crises of capitalist accumulation at the global level resonates in economic crisis in Nigeria is also explained. It is this dynamic interface which has fuelled agricultural commercialisation policies by the different administrations since 1999, complimented by the new scramble for transnational capital accumulation in Africa, and the survival of the dominant class coalition in Nigeria.

Following an analytical engagement with the political economy of Nigeria, as a basis of placing the discourse and problems found related to this study. How the political economy of agricultural commercialisation has played out in Nigeria was looked at and a brief review of agricultural commercialisation processes from 1966-1999 carried out.  What emerged was a highly dysfunctional and extractive state deployed by the dominant class and foreign capital as a mechanism for primitive capitalist accumulation.

Land Use Act & Capital accumulation

Capital accumulation is very important for the post-colonial state, particularly how it was fostered through national control over peasant land. The Land Use Act, enacted in 1978 with the purpose of providing standardised land administrations across Nigeria, in fact shuns the interests of Nigerian peasants in favour of dominant classes. The Act also solidified the alliance between the petty bourgeois and foreign capital in terms of their mutual interests in peasant land and accumulation.  Oil wealth, and the neglect of agriculture, weakened the ability of peasant farmers to organise resistance and made them politically irrelevant. 

Important factors to consider are the issues and implications of the post-colonial state governability, the attendant political narratives and actors that shape agricultural commercialisation in Nigeria, and different interests and incentives that drive the agricultural commercialisation pathways. The weak and non-hegemonic nature of the post-colonial state and its caretakers in Nigeria is a factor, a condition that engenders economic and political crises just as it promotes the intellectual hegemony of transnational capital in the policy domain. This fosters a policy regime oriented to agricultural commercialisation as a strategy for economy diversification, poverty eradication, wealth and development as championed by neoliberal globalisation.

Agricultural commercialisation serves the interest of the dominant classes to remain in power and provides avenue for primitive capital accumulation making it a preferred strategy by every administration since 1999. This has become more attractive following the global food and energy crises, which made agricultural business a source of transnational accumulation.

Conclusion

The dysfunctional post-colonial state and the mode of accumulation favoured by the Nigerian dominant classes is a curse rather than a blessing, and a fundamental departure from the prevailing agricultural commercialisation orientation is needed.  Among other things, for agricultural commercialisation to achieve its desired objectives in Nigeria it must empower the smallholders. This requires smallholders to be shielded against the forces of globalisation through increased capacity to access the global market. A more determined effort of combatting corruption is crucial. The orientation of the country to agro-business instead of agro-development, which entails valuing agriculture for itself rather than an escape and desperate economic crisis strategy is recommended. Thus, agricultural commercialisation must engender capital accumulation as opposed to primitive capital accumulation. The people must be at the heart of the nation’s development through a deliberate democratisation of development and mass empowerment.



This blog was written by Adelaja Odutola Odukoya.

To read Working Paper 29 : Political Economy of Agricultural Commercialisation in Nigeria, click here.

Cover image: Farmer operates his tractor outside Abuja. Credit: ©IFPRI/Milo Mitchell. Found on Flickr.